MSU ag faculty, staff, students honored at annual awards reception


By: Vanessa Beeson

Several Mississippi State faculty, staff and students are recipients of awards in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station for dedication and ingenuity during a challenging year.

"While the global pandemic exponentially changed how we approach teaching, our faculty and staff rose to the occasion to deliver a quality education to our students," said Scott Willard, interim dean of MSU's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "With many of our classes and laboratories requiring hands-on delivery, our faculty taught more sections and provided additional opportunities for students while working within the CDC guidelines for physical distancing."

Wes Burger, associate director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, spoke to the commitment of the Experiment Station's researchers and staff.

"While there were disruptions in 2020, MAFES scientists were still able to secure over $37 million in extramural funding, representing over 14 percent of the university"s total grants awarded," Burger said.

This year's honorees include:

Darrel Sparks and Scott WillardAssociate Professor Darrell Sparks, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology (BCHEPP), College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Teacher of the Year and CALS Excellence in Teaching Award - Upper Division Level. Sparks taught four classes across 10 sections including General Biochemistry II with about 80 students, and Senior Seminar with approximately 40 students. As undergraduate coordinator for the department since 2013, he mentors over 500 students per year. Sparks also chaired the committee that helped the BCHEPP achieve American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology accreditation, becoming only the third SEC program to receive this honor.

Daniel Chesser and Scott WillardAssistant Professor Daniel Chesser, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, CALS Excellence in Teaching Award - Lower Division Level. Chesser, as a three-time MSU grad, has been with the university in some capacity for nearly 20 years. His main teaching goal is to help students succeed in the highly technical and competitive job market by developing applied engineering problem-solving skills. Colleagues note his dynamic learning environment where students excel and are energized to learn to the fullest and do their best.

Shien Lu and Scott WillardProfessor Shien Lu, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, CALS Excellence in Teaching Award - Graduate Level. Lu teaches plant bacteriology, principles of plant pathology and plant disease management. For 17 years, Lu has achieved an average of 4.63 in course evaluations, using hands-on techniques to introduce complex plant disease issues to students. He also created a first-year seminar course titled "The Hungry Planet: Plant Disease Stories" to provide a survey of plant pathology and communicate the discipline's importance to undergraduate students.

Shecoya WhiteAssistant Professor Shecoya White, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, CALS Excellence in Teaching - New Faculty Award. White mentors graduate and undergraduate research scholars, and serves as faculty advisor for MSU's newly-formed Pipetting Club, which gives students a hands-on opportunity to hone laboratory skills, including pipetting. She also served as faculty advisor for the MSU team placing third nationally in the Research Chef Association's 2021 National Student Culinology Competition.

Fred Musser and Scott WillardProfessor Fred Musser, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, CALS/MAFES Outstanding Faculty Service Award. Musser represents CALS/MAFES on the Holland Faculty Senate and has served on three committees, including as chair of the Student Affairs committee. He also has served on the DAFVM faculty senate and departmental committees in BCHEPP and PSS, and assisted on several MSU search committees. Musser has been treasurer of the Mississippi Entomological Society for the past 14 years as the longest-serving member of the MEA Executive Board. He?s held several leadership roles in the Entomological Society of America and is the field and forage crops editor of the Journal of Economic Entomology.

David Buys and Scott WillardAssociate Professor and MSU Extension Service State Health Specialist David Buys, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, CALS/MAFES Faculty Diversity Award. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Buys began examining data on racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 outcomes and publishing the results through social media, news and virtual events with community experts. He co-facilitated the "Allyship and Action Roundtable" in the summer of 2020 and was asked to join the faculty of the African American Studies program. He addresses equity issues in teaching, research and outreach. Buys is a member of the NAACP Oktibbeha County branch and the Starkville Oktibbeha Unity League. He serves on the advisory board for Five Horizons Health Care, the Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health, and is a taskforce member for a statewide initiative called Creating an Age-Friendly Public Health System, all of which are organizations that seek to serve marginalized and minority communities.

Muscle Foods and Sensory LabThe Muscle Foods and Sensory Lab, CALS/MAFES Team Diversity Award. The team includes faculty, staff and students in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion and the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. The team is led by Wes Schilling, a professor of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion. Other department team members include Yan Campbell, research associate III; Xue Zhang, postdoctoral associate; and graduate students Shalyndria Dortch, Jasmine Hendrix, Hunter Hessler, Hannah Holley, Sadie White, Wenjie Shao and Kezia Virellia To. Thu Dinh, associate professor in Animal and Dairy Sciences, also is on the team.

Sam Chang and Craig ShidelerProfessor Sam Chang, Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, Mississippi Land Bank-sponsored MAFES Excellence in Research Faculty Award. Since 2017, Chang has been awarded three national competitive research grants from USDA-NIFA-AFRI totaling approximately $1 million, and he has published 42 refereed journal articles. Chang is director of the Mississippi Center for Food Safety and Post-Harvest Technology and the MAFES Experimental Seafood Processing Laboratory. He also serves as scientific editor for the Journal of Food Science. Chang accepted the award from Craig Shideler, president and CEO of the Mississippi Land Bank.

Brian Baldwin and Wes BurgerProfessor Brian Baldwin, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, MAFES Grantmanship Award. The award recognizes the scientist who garners the most in competitive grant funds. During his tenure at MSU, Baldwin has attracted 88 grants for a combined total of more than $10.5 million. From these research funds, he has published two book chapters, 75 refereed journal articles, two plant patents, and two Plant Variety Protection certifications. He has advised and mentored 29 graduate and 160 undergraduate students.

Amanda Stone and Wes BurgerAssistant Professor Amanda Stone, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, MAFES Outstanding Publication Award for her article "Predicting dairy cattle heat stress using machine learning techniques," published in the Journal of Dairy Science.

Raja Reddy and Wes BurgerProfessor Raja Reddy, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, MAFES Most Impactful Publication Award for his article "Developing functional relationships between temperature and soybean yield and seed quality," published in the Agronomy Journal.

Beverly Catchot and Wes BurgerBeverly Catchot, research associate I, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant Pathology, MAFES Outstanding Research Staff Award. For the last six years, Catchot has managed the department's Insect Rearing Lab, where she supervises a small staff, supplies insects for graduate student programs and performs insecticide bioassays and general lab maintenance. Catchot's care and commitment resulted in no insect colony losses during the COVID-19 shutdown. In addition to her role, she mentors students and is a student herself, working toward a master's and publishing two peer-reviewed publications.

Hunt Walne and Wes BurgerCharles "Hunt" Walne, doctoral student, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Graduate Research Award. Earning his bachelor's degree in agronomy from MSU, Walne began working under the direction of Raja Reddy in 2016 as an undergraduate research scholar. By 2017, he had accepted a graduate research assistant position to begin working toward a doctoral degree. Walne's research focuses on the interaction between plant genetics, environmental stressors and management practices across a variety of crops. He has published three refereed publications, with another three submitted. He has presented eight oral and 17 poster presentations.

Trevor Garretg and Scott WillardTrevor Garrett, facilities coordinator, Pontotoc Ridge-Flatwoods Branch Experiment Station, CALS/MAFES Outstanding Professional Staff Award. For more than 20 years, Garrett has helped increase research capacity for projects ranging from common grain and fiber crops to specialty areas. In the last five years, he has helped publish more than 30 journal articles, 31 presentations, 16 technical bulletins and helped to generate more than $1 million in grant funding.

Sharon Vaughan and Scott WillardSharon Vaughan, business coordinator, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, CALS/MAFES Outstanding Support Staff Award. With MSU for 27 years, Vaughan is known as a go-to person for administrative support and an exemplary example of efficiency, with a strong work ethic and commitment to the department and university.

For more on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, visit Learn about the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station by visiting

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